PCSOs in North Devon are becoming trained as retained fire fighters in new pilot scheme which is gaining national attention.

A pilot scheme is being launched in North Devon which will see PCSOs putting on their fire helmets to attend emergency calls.

The initiative - one of the first of its kind in the South West - will combine the role of PCSOs with retained firefighters.

Peter Hyde, Mark James and Marcus Jarvis have been trained and are operating in the joint role in Ilfracombe, Holsworthy and Okehampton and Hatherleigh.

A further three PCSOs are about to embark on their training before covering Bideford, Torrington and Ilfracombe.

They will provide invaluable cover during weekdays in particular when the fire service struggle to provide the required cover for retained stations.

Police sector inspector for North Devon, Roger Bartlett, said: “There are two main aims to this work.

“The first is to retain a visible uniformed presence in our communities in the face of significant ongoing cuts to our services.

“By sharing the cost of these officers we hope to protect frontline officers who deliver such an essential engagement and safeguarding role in communities.

“The second aim is to provide a better more joined up service where officers visiting premises or engaging with community groups can not only deliver crime related advice but also fire safety advice that will protect people from harm.”

Neil Blackburn, area commander for Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, added: “As well as providing a better service and reducing costs, this will also help us to provide fire response cover in communities where we have struggled to recruit sufficient retained officers who can provide cover during office hours because of their own work commitments, so it really does provide both services and the community with significant benefits.

“We feel that the role of a PCSO fits really well with that of locally based fire officers and have a great deal of interest from PCSOs locally which is really encouraging.”

The pilot scheme is purely voluntary at this stage but has drawn national interest from other force areas and the Home Office.

Peter Heaton-Jones MP for North Devon, said he thought the pilot project was very ‘exciting’.

He added: “Once again North Devon is at the forefront of pioneering innovative ideas.

Greater collaboration between the police and fire services is a sensible and efficient use of resources, which also provides better coverage in terms of public safety.

“I’ve visited both the fire service and the police in recent months and am hugely impressed with the work they do.”